Illinois Gas Company Held Not Responsible In Gas Explosion

In 2002, a mother and her teenage daughter were living in a rented home. One night, the high school junior returned home at 10:30 pm and noticed a faint order when she walked into the residence, but she didn’t identify it as natural gas because she didn’t know what natural gas smelled like.

On the following morning, the mother woke up about 6:30 am and smelled what she thought was natural gas. Her daughter recognized the odor as the same she had detected the night before but the smell had grown much stronger. The mother called 911, but the gas explosion occurred immediately after that call was made. The mother and daughter were severely injured.

The plaintiffs sued the owner and general manager of the duplex where they lived as well as the plumbing company that had installed the gas piping. It was alleged by the plaintiffs that the interior gas piping had been installed negligently and caused the explosion.

After the lawsuit had been filed, the plaintiffs added gas utility, Northern Illinois Gas as a defendant. The plaintiff settled with the building owner and general manager as well as the plumbing company. They proceeded against Northern Illinois Gas who they alleged was negligent in that the company failed to inspect its work and warn the plaintiffs.

Northern, however, filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that none of its equipment caused the explosion and that the defendant Northern owed the plaintiffs no duty under common law and even if a duty existed, it was disclaimed by a tariff it had filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission. A tariff is a public document containing the services being offered, the rate and charges for the services and the governing rules, regulations and practices relating to those services.

In the document that Northern filed, it was stated that equipment, piping and vents furnished by the customer shall be suitable for the purposes and must be installed and maintained by the customer. Accordingly, Northern would assume no responsibility in connection with the installation, maintenance or operation of the customer’s equipment.

The trial court granted Northern’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that it owed no duty to inspect the interior gas piping for defects or warn the plaintiffs. On appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, it affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The Appeals Court said the “seminal” example of the common law rule pertaining to gas distribution in a consumer’s pipes and fixtures is Clare v. Bond Plenty Gas Co., 356 Ill. 241 (1934).

In Clare, the court held: “In the absence of notice of defects, it is not incumbent on a gas company to exercise reasonable care to ascertain whether or not service pipes under the control of the property owner or the consumer are fit for the furnishing of gas.”
In this case, the Appellate Court held that the gas company had no constructive notice of any risk of any dangerous condition. The service calls to the plaintiffs’ address gave the gas company no constructive notice of any risks of any future gas leaks or explosion.

Turner v. Northern Illinois Gas Co., No. 2-08-0878.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois personal injury lawsuits for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Hoffman Estates, Deerfield, Oak Lawn, and Wilmette.

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